Bratislava… a place to chill

Bratislava… a place to chill


26 September, Thursday

The first meal is often the simplest and most functional. Burgers and chips (i.e. fries … hranolky) at “Café Studio” on Laurinská. The first pub was Čierny Pes (the Black Dog), a proper Slovak bar where the young waiter was thrilled with the big tip. The bill for half a dozen drinks was less than thirteen euros so letting him keep the rest of a twenty was hardly the shirt off my back.

It was down the narrow cobbles of Na Vŕšku then to the Irish Uisce Beatha, which has a reassuring “No Stags” sign on the door. The barmaid (L.) was a pretty and polite Slovak brunette with an Irish ex. Pretty and polite and honest.

27 September, Friday

It’s hard to spend money here. After breakfast at “Re-Fresh” at the far end of the street below Michael’s Gate, the bright morning meant a sweaty climb to the Castle. At least the shop had a couch. I bought some postcards to justify the seat. Upon descending we stopped at a place (J. J. Darvoben) beside the cathedral. The woman smilingly corrected my chléb (Czech) to chlieb when P. wanted some regular bread to go with the toast on the platter my two companions shared.

It was in the afternoon when I got most of my photos and spotted the only English stag in town. Bratislava lacks the snottiness of most capitals, probably because it’s a relatively new one. Meandering, photo-taking, was an essay in relaxation, exemplified by the boy and girl in a courtyard playing chess with pieces almost as big as traffic cones.

The late afternoon meant a siesta. Later we ate in the book-lined cellar bar of Pod kamenným stromom (‘Under the Stone Tree’) on Sedlárska, just off Hlavné námestie. We drank again in the same two pubs as the night before. A Chekhovian young English lady with a dog was sweet to me before she left Uisce Beatha. She had already told J. that having the dog was useful for getting chatted up.




Trenčín, Slovakia

Trenčín, Slovakia

28 September 2019

I got out of the Bratislava hotel by ten and walked up to the Hlavná stanica. The day got wet for a while. It was only a tenner for the hour on the train northeast to Trenčín. The seat numbering on the train was tricky but at least all the Slovaks seemed confused too.


I got there around one so I had something to eat at a place called Speranza. It was the only place in the quiet old town that had half a crowd outside. A cheesy beef and potato dish on a menu entirely in Slovak ensued but at least I know words like that.

Then I went to the plush Hotel Elizabeth and checked into luxury for a night (€82 is cheap for four stars). The chap mentioned raňajky (breakfast) and bez (without) so, by way of confirmation, I just said, Bez. On the way out again, to do the Castle, I saw the Roman inscription on the rock of the hill outside the windows. There’s a back landing used as a viewing and info gallery. Carved by men of the II Auxiliary legion in 179 AD, the message was only rediscovered by a local clergyman in 1852.

arr 7

The Castle was a steeper hike than the one in Bratislava but that was also after two nights on the beer. When paying in, I found the pretty woman of the two seemed to take a shine to me, complimenting my effort in Slovak and then emerging to help scan the ticket at the barriers outside. I was already ready to melt but then saw the climb went on. And on. Still, after a cooling-off period, I did the top tower and all. Mátušova veža. The top of the castle. The narrow stairways and doorways up there proved no obstacle to the young and ignorant. Twice, when I stepped back to let someone in or out, the twenty and thirty somethings would pass my shoulder and drive on regardless.

A lone black goat was grazing on a grassy enclosure between ramparts. A Japanese couple got snapped (by me) while filming it. I’d got it too, just below where I was standing, while doing a three-sixty of the scene, but moved the camera away to give it some privacy during a call of nature.

On the way back down, I again passed the restaurant (Pod Hradom – ‘Under the Castle’) with the wedding party. I’d paused within earshot, out on the steep, damp lane, while climbing those steps and cobbles, just to listen to a Slovak folk song (kind of Jewish, I thought), which was accompanied by an accordion. There’s a big synagogue in the old town.

Back at the hotel I slept for an hour to catch up on that and then I went to the Lanius Pivovar for an evening meal: a fine steak with grilled veg for less than twenty and a couple of beers for an added fiver. I called it a night at half past nine. Wrote some notes and went easy on the mini-bar. A bath soak would begin a long day before nine in the morning, before three trains, then a flight, then a 200 km drive home.

Daniel O’Connell in Paris

Daniel O’Connell in Paris

Image: Toulouse-Lautrec (Le Lit)

Dungarvan and some heroes and zeroes of Irish history...



Nearby rose the beautiful bourgeois apartment blocks that surround Place Denfert-Rochereau. Beyond them lay Montparnasse and the neon of its cinemas.

Daniel OC in Paris

PS … here is the town’s only Nobel Prize winner, Ernest Walton, sharing his atomic secrets with a couple of local Russian spies …




Escape from Washington

Escape from Washington

Bertolt Brecht appeared in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) on 30 October 1947. Facing him that morning were the Chairman, J. Parnell Thomas, born John Parnell Feeney, who had not only changed his name but also his denomination, to Episcopalian. His political career ended soon afterwards. In 1948 he was indicted and subsequently jailed for defrauding the federal government.

Other members present were Reps. John McDowell (died by suicide in 1957) and Richard Vail (d. 1955). Most of the questions were asked by HUAC Chief Investigator Robert E. Stripling, a Texan who, a year later, assisted Richard Nixon in his pursuit of Alger Hiss. Nixon, though also a Committee member, was not present on the day.

Brecht was flanked by two lawyers, Bartley Crum (died by suicide in 1959) and Robert Kenny, and an interpreter, David Baumgardt, about whom a committee member can be overheard at one point interjecting, I can’t understand the interpreter any more than I can the witness.

The only foreigner called up on a Hollywood list of “unfriendly” witnesses, Brecht left the country the very next day, never to return. He was too clever for them and they ended up thanking him for it.

It was like Kafka’s Trial, but in reverse.

The links below are to parts one and two of the full show, with later commentary by Eric Bentley.

The reader is now directed to the audio link part one above, from 18:22, as follows

STRIPLING: Now, I will repeat the original question. Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party of any country?

BRECHT: Mr. Chairman, I have heard my colleagues, eh, and they considered this question not as proper but I am a guest in this country and do not want to enter in any legal arguments, so I will answer your question fully as well I can. I was not a member or am not a member of any Communist Party.

CHAIRMAN: Your answer is, then, that you have never been a member of the Communist Party?

BRECHT: That is correct.

STRIPLING: You were not a member of the Communist Party for Germany?

BRECHT: No, I was not.

STRIPLING: Eh, Mr. Brecht, is it true that you have written a number of very revolutionary poems, plays and other writings?

BRECHT: I have written a number of poems and songs and plays in the fight against Hitler and, of course, they can be considered, therefore, as revolutionary because I, of course, was for the overthrow of that government.

CHAIRMAN: Mr. Stripling, we are not interested in any works that he might have written calling for the overthrow of Germany or the government there.

From the start of part two, above, Stripling asks about a play called Massnahme, which was one of two Brecht adaptations of a particular Noh play from Japan, but Bentley tells us that Brecht’s explanation relates to the second adaptation, not that Stripling or the Committee spotted the difference.

STRIPLING: Now, Mr. Brecht, will you tell the Committee whether or not one of the characters in this play was murdered by his comrades because it was in the best interests of the Party, is that true? Of the Communist Party.

BRECHT: No, it is not, eh, not quite so in the story.

STRIPLING: Because he would not bow to discipline he was murdered by his comrades, isn’t that true?

BRECHT: No, it is not really so in the play. You will find, when you read it, carefully, that like in the old Japanese play where other ideas were at stake, the young man who died, uh, was convinced that he had done damage to the mission he believed in and he agreed to that and he was ready to die, in order not to make greater such damage. So he asks his comrades to help him and all of them together help him to die. He jumps into a… abyss and they lead him, eh, tenderly to that abyss. And that is the story.

CHAIRMAN: Well I gather from your remarks, from your answer, that he was just killed. He wasn’t murdered. (laughter)

BRECHT: He wanted to die.

CHAIRMAN: So they killed him?

BRECHT: No, they did not kill him, not in this story. They, he killed himself. They supported him. But, of course, they had told him it were better when he disappeared (laughter) … for him and them and the cause he also believed in, up ’til the end.

From 09:32 in part two, above, Stripling leaves the issue of party membership aside to press Brecht on whether he ever attended any dubious assemblies. More laughter ensues.

STRIPLING: Eh, Mr. Brecht, since you have been in, eh, the United States, have you attended any Communist Party meetings?

BRECHT: No, I do not think so.

STRIPLING: You don’t think so.


CHAIRMAN: Well, aren’t you certain?

BRECHT: (chuckles) I am, I am certain, I think, yes.

CHAIRMAN: You are certain that you have never attended?

BRECHT: Yeah, quite. I think so (laughter). You see I am here six years, I am here six years, I do not think so. I do not think I attended, that I attended, eh, political meetings.

CHAIRMAN: No, no, never mind the political meetings, but have you attended any Communist meetings in the United States?

BRECHT: I do not think so. No.

CHAIRMAN: You’re certain?

BRECHT: I think I am certain.

CHAIRMAN: You think you’re certain. (laughter)

STRIPLING: You don’t know what a, what it, what a –

BRECHT: No, I have not attended such meetings, eh, in my opinion.

From 27:23 in part two, the final joust plays out, leading to the longest laugh of all.

CHAIRMAN: Some people did ask you to join the Communist Party, didn’t they?


KENNY (lawyer): In Germany or…?

BRECHT: In Germany, you mean in Germany?

CHAIRMAN: No, I mean in the United States.

BRECHT: No, no, no.

CHAIRMAN (to Kenny): Now you let, you let him, he’s doing all right, he’s doing much better than the other witnesses that you’ve brought here (laughter) … (to Brecht) You don’t ever recall anyone in the United States ever asked you to join the Communist Party?

BRECHT: No, I do not recall anybody having asked me.

The Chairman then asks each of his colleagues in turn if they have any more questions.

STRIPLING: I would like to ask Mr. Brecht whether or not he wrote a poem – a song, rather – entitled, Forward, We’ve Not Forgotten.

McDOWELL: Forward we’ve what?

STRIPLING: (louder, irritated) Forward, We’ve Not Forgotten.

Stripling then recites an entire lyric lost in translation.

STRIPLING: Did you write that, Mr. Brecht?

BRECHT: No, I wrote a German poem but that is very different… (extended laughter) … from this thing.

STRIPLING: Eh, that is all the questions I have, Mr. Chairman.

CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much, Mr. Brecht. And you are a good example to the witnesses of Mr. Kenny and Mr. Crum.

A gavel then bangs for a recess until that afternoon.

On the tape Bentley then recalls meeting Brecht a year later near Zürich, when Brecht laughed at a recording of the show. He added that he had chosen to risk disregarding Bartley Crum’s advice to tell them he was a communist party member (though it was not true) in case a membership card was later forged to ensure a perjury conviction.

They weren’t as bad as the Nazis. The Nazis would never have let me smoke. In Washington they let me have a cigar and I used it to manufacture pauses… between their questions and my answers.





District 36

District 36

Boer War 2.0 … from Dungarvan to Pretoria, a rugby story for fans and non-fans 

14 September 2007

There was a crowd in the snug of the Anchor on the quay, watching a group match in the Rugby World Cup. Two Afrikaner doctors at the back of the crowd understandably savoured the sight of their team whitewashing England 36-0.

One gave a running commentary just for the benefit of the scattered, fuming Englishmen in the throng, which, being otherwise Irish, was reluctant to snigger – at least openly – in front of these English people, whom they knew.

Nonetheless he kept pushing, knowing the dam of politeness holding back the guffaws would burst eventually, which it did.

For someone like me, a late arrival, standing behind the Afrikaners was much more interesting, in an anthropological sense, than anything on TV, and anyway the rugby crowd would melt away after the match.

I noticed that, for a doctor, the commentator’s colleague wasn’t too well up on the English words for the, eh, ‘sports’ injuries being incurred by the English for bad measure.

Wat is “hamstring” ?

After that and similar asides, the coup de grace in the public commentary finally came during a long stoppage.

It was for the river of blood (“Cor blimey”) that just happened to be running down the face of a different English player.

Efrika is a taff cantry, boys. No place for cissies.